Orville Fleming took the news of his sentencing Friday – 16 years to life in prison – as stoically as he described taking his girlfriend’s life at his murder trial.
Fleming was silent and emotionless as Sarah Douglas’ mother sobbed in the gallery and as an incredulous judge expressed disgust and disbelief at the former Cal Fire chief’s brutality and the dark path he traveled that ended astride Douglas stabbing and strangling her to death on the bed they shared in their Elk Grove-area home on May 1, 2014.
“I ended up with a very basic question: Why?” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Sharon Lueras said Friday. “Why would you take the dark path you took that night? The only answer I could come up with is your need for control.”
Sacramento Superior Court jurors in June found Fleming guilty of second-degree murder in the slaying. By state statute, those convicted of murder in the second-degree are committed to a term of 15 years to life in state prison. A year was added to the sentence because Fleming used a knife to kill Douglas.
How do I tell my boy that a firefighter killed his mother?
Nicholas Mitrick, the father of Sarah Douglas' son, 6
Fleming, divorced, disgraced, now a convicted murderer, is 57 years old. He will be eligible for parole at 72. Fleming was a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection academy instructor with a wife of 30 years and grown children when he met Douglas, 26, on an online escort site.
He eventually left his wife, but couldn’t escape his jealousy or the need to control his much younger lover, prosecutors said at trial. Fleming testified that he was in a “zombie state” before the killing. His attorney, Peter Kmeto, said Fleming suffered from dissociative amnesia, which blocked some memories of the killing. Kmeto said Fleming never planned to kill Douglas.
“How could a Cal Fire chief be accused of such things? He’s a firefighter, a hero. He saves our lives, our homes. He’s one of the good guys,” Lueras said. “When a Cal Fire chief solicits prostitutes, then leaves his wife for another woman who is 30 years his junior, then murders her, the world as we know it tilts. We as a society feel betrayed.”
Fleming remained silent throughout the hearing. The courtroom was similarly quiet when a Sacramento County sheriff’s bailiff asked, “Anybody here for the defendant?”
You demanded control, unequivocal control, and you were holding all the cards
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Sharon A. Lueras
Nicholas Mitrick, the father of Douglas’ now 6-year-old son, had a pointed question for Sarah’s killer: “How do I tell my boy that a firefighter killed his mother?” Mitrick read as Fleming stared straight ahead. “Take your sins, write them down and send them to me, the man who has to tell my son about May 1, 2014.”
Douglas and Fleming’s brief relationship was rife with vicious insults, fueled by jealousy and marked by middle-of-the-night fights that exploded in anger, neighbors and Fleming testified.
That came to a head just after midnight May 1, 2014 after Douglas returned home from a night out with her sister and mother at Red Hawk Casino near Placerville, eager to see Fleming. An enraged Fleming sped to Red Hawk to search for Douglas, before returning home to find her on the telephone with her sister, Stephanie.
Stephanie Douglas heard her sister’s screams over the phone and found her body the next morning on the floor beside her bed. By then, Fleming had tried to end his life before fleeing. He cowered in the brush, ducking searchers in the air and on the ground for 16 days before his arrest at a community college’s bus stop.
Douglas’ mother Trudie Werly demanded that Fleming “Look at the screen,” at images of her daughter in happier times – at school and in dance class, celebrating holidays and vacations, holding her infant son – as they flickered on a courtroom screen.
“You’re a monster who murdered my baby. My Sarah will never come back ever. On the way home from the casino, all she talked about was you and you hunted her down. I hope you see Sarah’s face the rest of your life,” Werly told Fleming through her tears, before asking him one final question: “Was it worth it?”